Last week, I told you that I finally turned in the manuscript to my second book. This book is called Make Light -- through the interviews of dozens of amazing women who seem to thrive, I learned that primarily what they do to be successful at it is that they make light -- in their own lives, and the lives of others. Their stories are phenomenal, and I haven't stopped thinking about them since they were first told to me.
This week is going to be the beginning of a new presidential administration in the United States, a time I have to admit I fear will be a dark period, one that I'm having a really tough time wrapping my mind around. So, inspired by the amazing women I interviewed for the book, it seems to me that now is as good of a time as any to start a new project, one focused on making light. Together, let's work on fighting all of the bigotry and narrow-mindedness and body-sickness and soul-sickness that seems to be infesting our world, by doing the opposite: creating light by...
... honing our brilliant minds, by creating something with our hands or learning something new (or even developing expertise in something we already know how to do);
... fine-tuning our electric bodies, by being mindful about what we put in them, and finding creative ways to move them; and finally
... caring for our radiant spirits, by spending moments of time in stillness or prayer; or even more powerfully, doing something to care for other people: connecting with people we love, say; or fighting for joy and justice for folks who could use a hand.
We'll call it The #MakeLight Project, and here's how I think this could work:
Every Monday, I'll share something that will hopefully inspire you in some way to make light during the week. It will have something to do with one of the three categories above -- it might be an idea about how you might give of your gifts to your community, or a video of a new skill that might be fun to learn, or the link to an amazing recipe or article about food, or even just a story of a lovely kindness.
Then during the week, share your own stories on Instagram of how you or someone you know makes light. You could share something you did over the week to practice self-care of your brilliant mind, electric body or radiant spirit: a new skill you're learning, or a new way to move, or connecting with someone -- or you could even share the story where you were the recipient of a much-appreciated act of kindness, large or small. Tag your photograph accompanying your story #MakeLight -- I'll be sure to share some favourites in upcoming weeks. As we share our stories, we'll create a community of Light Makers that will help inspire each other every week to thrive.
Sound like a plan?
Okay, so let's start:
Because Friday will be the culmination of an incredibly contentious, explosive, fractious time in the US, I find myself thinking more and more about kindness. And in the past, I've mentioned Shawn Achor, a psychologist who studies happiness and who shares some really concrete ways to help cultivate happiness in your life -- one of those ways being to practice a conscious act of kindness every day.
I love that phrase -- conscious act of kindness -- as opposed to "random" act of kindness. "Conscious" implies a mindfulness, and intention.
So, this week, I'll challenge you to keep your eye out for conscious acts of kindness in your world -- create a few, yes; but also be mindful of when you're the recipient of a conscious act of kindness -- I'd really love to hear that story. So please, share it -- you can email me personally if you'd like (firstname.lastname@example.org), or share your story on Instagram with the hashtag #MakeLight. I can't wait to hear what you share.
And as a reminder of how those acts of kindness, no matter how tiny, can mean so much, check out this really funny little life lesson from a volunteer firefighter.
With that, go out there and save the shoes this week, friends. But more importantly, make light -- mind, body and/or spirit -- and share it with me.
Light on, friends.
Remember this was a good week? Well, I hope so, because again, this was a good week! Here's why:
• Did I mention I turned in my manuscript? Because I turned in my manuscript. Alleluia, amen.
• Speaking of books, my sweet friend Erin Loechner released her first book this week, Chasing Slow, and it's a beaut. Go on and get you summadat.
• And speaking of even more books, here are 70 books to make you hopeful. I may have to read them all. Starting next Friday.
• Lost Rolls America looks really intriguing.
• My friend Justin turned 49! And as he's done for the last 6 years, he took the same number of self-portraits as his age. I love how sweet the images are every year. I may have to start the same tradition this year, I think.
• A baby elephant chasing swallows. Tell me that didn't make your day better.
• When I mentioned that I was back, a sweet reader says "I hope that means more photographs!" It does -- perhaps even more than words. Let's go for a photo a day every weekday, shall we? We'll see if the words keep up or not, but no promises.
• Finally, the soundtrack: a mashup of the Beastie Boys and Daft Punk. If you are not a fan of either the Beastie Boys or Daft Punk, then you really shouldn't listen. But if you're a fan of them both, have I got something awesome for you.
With that, happy weekend, sweet friends. See you Monday.
This afternoon I turned in my manuscript for my second book. And tonight with dinner, I had champagne to celebrate. Yeah, I did.
For a multitude of reasons, both within and out of my control, I didn't really begin writing this book in earnest until the week after Thanksgiving. But 200+ pages and 100+ images later, it's done. I have to admit that my overwhelming emotion right now is relief. And maybe a little bit of pride. And definitely, a whole heap of gratitude: so many people were so generous of their time and wisdom and wonderful faces to help make this book happen, and because of them I was able to do this. I can't wait to share it with you.
But I'm also feeling excited: because now that the book is in my publisher's very capable hands, I can return to spending time with you guys, here on Chookooloonks. How are you? How were your holidays?
Earlier this week, I saw a cartoon on Facebook. There were two people: one was standing behind the other, who was gardening. The first person asks, "What do you think 2017 will bring?" And the second person says, "I think it will bring flowers." And the first person responds, "Why do you think that?" And the second person answers, "Because I'm planting flowers."
Right on: some folks are planting flowers, I'm planning on making light. What about you? What are you going to be bringing this year?
I missed you all. It's good to be back.
Tell me something good.
Soundtrack: Tell me something good, by Rufus & Chaka Khan
Camera obscura is one of those concepts that I studied many years ago in my high school physics class, and back in the day, I could recite what it meant on any test; but honestly, I never really understood how or why it worked. In essence, it's the concept behind a pinhole camera: an image projected through a tiny hole into a dark room will appear inverted and upside-down on the back wall of that same room. (A clearer definition can be found here -- thanks, Wikipedia.) There are theories that artists used the concept behind camera obscura to produce many of the photo-realistic paintings from the Renaissance that we admire; eventually, camera obscura became the foundation of modern-day photography.
In essence, the camera obscura takes an image and creates a false reproduction -- it's not the real image, it's upside down and inverted.
It's like that famous Magritte painting: ceci n'est pas une pipe. The image isn't the real thing. It's something more.
Photography literally means "to draw with light," and there's a famous saying that goes, "every photograph is a self-portrait." In essence, the theory is that in addition to the subject of the photograph, there's always something of the photographer that is left in any image they make. I believe this to be the case, actually, and I'm not the only one: check out this amazing article of a photography historian who borrowed Ansel Adams' camera and shot the same image, yet it didn't look the same. The historian and Ansel each left different things in their images.
The camera always looks both ways. The image isn't the real thing. It's something more.
At the end of 2016, I finished the first draft of my second book, and right now, I'm about to start the first round of personal edits before I actually turn it into my publisher next week for the real editing process to begin. As it sits right now, it's in its really rough stages -- there are typos, things don't flow as well as I'd like, I still need to make sure I have all the images that I need. And yet, there are some really good things in this manuscript -- the book heavily features the wisdom of thriving from women of a range of ages who are doing just that, and my word, they are an inspiring bunch. I can't wait for you to read it.
The book is called Make Light. Because that's exactly what these women do.
And motivated by their words, the beginning of a new year, and the fact that 2017 is the year that I turn 50 (!), "make light" is going to be my mantra for the year. I'm not entirely sure what forms my making light will take, but it will be intentional, it will have motive, it will stay defiantly on mission (perhaps militantly so), and I'll be keeping in mind that my images aren't the real thing -- they'll be something more.
Happy New Year, friends. Here's to all of us making more light in 2017.
Soundtrack: Stay alive by José Gonzáles
“Perhaps the cause of our contemporary pessimism is our tendency to view history as a turbulent stream of conflicts – between individuals in economic life, between groups in politics, between creeds in religion, between states in war. This is the more dramatic side of history; it captures the eye of the historian and the interest of the reader. But if we turn from that Mississippi of strife, hot with hate and dark with blood, to look upon the banks of the stream, we find quieter but more inspiring scenes: women rearing children, men building homes, peasants drawing food from the soil, artisans making the conveniences of life, statesmen sometimes organizing peace instead of war, teachers forming savages into citizens, musicians taming our hearts with harmony and rhythm, scientists patiently accumulating knowledge, philosophers groping for truth, saints suggesting the wisdom of love. History has been too often a picture of the bloody stream. The history of civilization is a record of what happened on the banks.”
~ Will Durant
I'm in San Francisco, spending the last few days of 2016 with my family, before Marcus, Alex and I head back to Houston. This year was a helluva year, wasn't it? So much of what caught our collective attention was rooted in conflict and violence and death. If you focus on CNN and BBC and local news and hell, Facebook, it'd be easy to believe that 2016 was straight-up cursed.
But I wanted to share the Will Durant quote above, because I think it's a great reminder that despite the sorrow that grabbed the headlines this year, there was a lot of good that happened, too. Good, global things that didn't make the headlines, but should have. Also, despite any personal heartache we each might have experienced, I bet there was some lovely in our own lives, too -- just go through the archives on your cameraphone for proof.
So as the year winds down, I wanted to thank you for continuing to visit my little corner of the internet -- I continue to be so, so grateful that you do. Wherever in the world you are, may you bring in the new year safely and with joy. And inspired by the words of Will Durant, may we all continue to do our work on the banks -- because the banks are where the magic happens.
Happy New Year, friends. Keep looking for the light.
Soundtrack: No one takes your freedom -- a mashup by DJ Earworm, featuring George Michael, Aretha Franklin, The Beatles, and Scissor Sisters.
I've been working my butt off this week -- and got about 80 more pages written! -- but now, it's time to celebrate. Dear friends are flying in this weekend to celebrate their first Christmas with us (and us, our first Hanukkah with them!); then, after they leave next week, we fly out to join my family for the new year. And so while I'll continue to squeeze in a bit of writing here and there where I can, for the most part, I'm just going to try to soak up as much seasonal joy as I can out of the end of this year.
And so, happy holidays, my friends, from our family to yours. May the rest of your year be peaceful and full of joy.
Soundtrack: Carol of the Bells, arranged by Isaac Cates. Best turned all the way up.
Take it day by day, and be grateful for every breath.
Still plugging along on the book, albeit much slower, since I'm back at work. But I'm making progress, and this week, I was able to interview an old friend whose life work has always centered around the breath.
I'm very lucky that even though I'm under a lot of pressure with this book, I'm doing work that I love. I just have to remember to keep breathing.
This past week, I took off of work, and spent my time working on the new book. I ended up getting about 50 pages written over the past week (as of this writing) -- my goal is to get to 120 pages written in total by the time I get back to the office on Monday. The week began by my checking into a hotel for a couple of days, and then spending the rest of the week at home alone during the day, writing as much as possible, transcribing interviews, and shooting when I had the time.
Someone on Instagram called what I was doing going into my "word bunker" -- a hideout where I could just let the words come. This feels right. So here's what my week looked like in my word bunker -- whether it was at the hotel or at home. And while I'm still not as far along as I'd like, it undeniably feels like I've made progress.
(An aside: tea and shortbread cookies obviously play an integral part of my word bunker experience. Don't judge.)
I'm going back in. In the meantime, I hope you've all had a great week, too, and here's wishing all of us a wonderful, peaceful (and productive!) weekend.
Soundtrack: The Christmas Waltz, as performed by Johnnyswim. Their Christmas album has been on repeat in my car this week.
"Do you know if there's wifi here?"
I've been in a word bunker for the last 5 days, trying to get this book written (I've written an additional 30 pages done so far, so many more to go), and I decided that I needed a bit of human interaction today. So I guiltily drove to a coffee house -- Common Bond, one I haven't visited in a while -- just for a quick coffee before heading back to work.
Guilt did prompt me to bring a bit of work with me, however, so when I sat down I asked the guy at the table next to me, the one who was quietly working on his own laptop, if there was wifi in the coffeehouse. When he answered, I noticed an accent that was really familiar.
"Where are you from?"
"You mean, where was I born?" he asked. "Trinidad."
I smiled. "Me, too."
And thus began a 2-hour conversation with a total stranger -- one that began with us laughing about memories of Trinidad, and developed into one of those deep conversations where you're convinced that the two of you could change the world, if only the world would listen.
By the time I'd returned to my car, I should've felt guilty for spending so much time not working, but I didn't. And something this total stranger said to me struck me so hard, I suspect I'll be thinking of it for months to come:
You cannot remove darkness with a bucket. You have to introduce light.
Common bond, indeed.
(But now, I'm back at home, and I'm back to work. More when I emerge again.)
Soundtrack: Joy & peace, by Common (featuring Bilal)